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Struggling Students Require More Energy To Learn

A person’s brain occupies approximately 2 percent of the body’s weight, yet it uses 25 percent of the body’s energy. This amount of energy is required to stay alive, move around, and think. Studies have shown that struggling students require more energy in order to process what they are learning, especially if what they are asked to do stresses weak abilities such as working memory or processing speed.

I led a learning differences simulation this week created by the Northern California Branch of the International Dyslexia Association. Each station simulated what it is like to have a particular learning difference. For example, one activity is supposed to simulate an auditory processing problem. The students were supposed to be on a science field trip. They were told to listen to their group leader and do what she told them to do. The problem is that the students could hear their own group leader and five other group leaders all speaking at the same time. There were times when the other group leader’s voices were as loud or louder than their own. As I watched the participants try to do the activity, they looked very distressed and upset.

The whole event lasted a little over an hour. As I would escort participants between one simulation and the next, they often mentioned how exhausting the activities were. I heard more than once, “I can’t imagine how a student feels after struggling like this all day long.” The parents who participated left with a deep understanding of why their child comes home from school totally exhausted.

How can parents help? If your child has a hard time in school and comes home exhausted each day, there are several things you can do to help.

  • Make sure she gets plenty of rest. Children need more sleep than adults do. Many of my students come to school already sleepy, because they stayed up too late the night before. Sometimes it’s because they have their cell phone in bed with them and spend time visiting with their friends even after they are supposed to be asleep.
  • Provide for a healthy diet that includes protein for breakfast. I know many children do not like “normal” breakfast foods, but there are many nutritious foods they can eat in the morning that will give them extra energy throughout the early hours of the school day. It is also important to drink plenty of water throughout the day because your brain requires hydration to operate efficiently.
  • Exercise should also be a part of every child’s day. If they do not participate in sports or physical education programs at school, encourage them to play active games at home.
  • Drill and practice basic facts. Believe it or not, this can preserve energy. The brain won’t need so much extra energy to do these tasks. When struggling with something, the brain uses a lot more glucose than when facts are on “auto pilot”—some say as much as 7-10 times more energy is needed. For more information about the importance of drill and practice, read "Drill and Practice: The Basic Keys to Student Success."


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